Anti-drug fighters note higher production of illegal methamphetamine
Inching slowly up the stairs of a gray and nondescript apartment block in the northwest border town of Cheb, a group of anti-drug police officers – some kitted out in full riot gear – prepare to raid the home of two suspected methamphetamine dealers.
Without so much as a warning knock, one of the officers forces open the front door with a battering ram before the others storm past, all shouting at the occupants to get down on the floor. Once inside, they confirm their suspicions by discovering around 30 grams of a “crystalline substance” and various pieces of drug-making equipment. The items are seized, and a 28-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman are arrested.
Incidents such as this, shown in a video made public by the authorities in February, are commonplace here. According to Jakub Frydrych, head of the anti-drug police, officers shut down 235 so-called “kitchen” methamphetamine labs in 2012, compared with 388 the year before. Although it might seem like a step in the right direction, Frydrych says the labs, despite being fewer in number, are getting bigger in size and cooking up larger quantities of the drug.
“Organized criminal groups, often of Vietnamese origin, are able to ensure high-volume orders that are delivered to Asian markets by courier,” he said. “The Czech police are cooperating with other authorities to control this phenomenon, in particular at the Czech-German border.”
Pervitin in numbers
4.6 metric tons estimated consumption
20.1 kilograms amount seized by police
32,000 number of problem users
40 euros typical price per gram
2.1 percent lifetime prevalence among population
Source: Annual Report: The Czech Republic 2011 Drug Situation
The Czech Republic has long been considered Europe’s leading producer of methamphetamine, a stimulant known locally as pervitin, harking back to a time when restrictions imposed by the communist regime meant people had to concoct their own illicit substances at home.
Nowadays, the concerns are more of a commercial nature, with dealers concentrating their operations in the north Bohemia region to satisfy the growing demand from neighboring Germany. However, amid increased scrutiny from international bodies, kitchen lab operators are taking more precautions to avoid capture by the police.
“During the production of methamphetamine, chemical reactions occur that create waste materials and produce a strong smell, which can lead to a lab’s location being revealed,” Frydrych said. “That’s why isolated, far-away places are popular, because they reduce the risk of getting caught.”
Made by boiling down a combination of chemicals, one of which can be found in cold and flu medicines, methamphetamine is extremely popular with partygoers. The synthetic drug gives users the same feelings of energy and euphoria as cocaine but for a snip of the price. However, it is also highly addictive: Of the estimated 40,000 long-term drug users in the Czech Republic, more than three-quarters are dependent on methamphetamine.
Addicts of the drug, which is usually injected but can also be snorted or smoked, experience a range of health problems, including insomnia, rotten gums and even long-term brain damage. Jindřich Vobořil, the national anti-drug coordinator, says methamphetamine can be more dangerous than heroin.
“The biggest problem with methamphetamine is that it’s a stimulant drug,” he said. “It makes you go without eating and sleeping for days. People have a lot of psychological problems because of that. … They are very chaotic and aggressive. The damage is so extensive that it’s very difficult for them to stabilize; for example, to go back to work or to their studies.”
A different scene
Rolling out the government’s anti-drug policy for the next three years March 28, Vobořil explained how today’s drug scene has evolved. According to him, gone are the days when users hid themselves away in underground dens. He says the culture is now more visible, affecting a wider cross-section of society, and that prevention needs to focus on teenagers.
“All research studies show us that if young people under the age of 16 regularly use addictive substances such as alcohol, there is a direct correlation with them developing other addictions [later in life], including to illegal drugs,” Vobořil said.
In a nod to the complexity of the problem, Vobořil criticizes those who call for a “war on drugs,” claiming criminal enforcement will only go so far. He is an advocate of substitution therapy, whereby methamphetamine addicts are legally prescribed other opiates to help wean them off their dependency.
As things stand, there are no replacement drugs available in the Czech Republic to treat addiction to methamphetamine, but Vobořil is hoping to change that by looking abroad for solutions. He admits the therapy is likely to face a number of obstacles, though, including finding a professional body to experiment with various forms of the treatment and getting health insurers to pay the final costs.
“I know it looks like we’re giving drugs to drugs users, but if we think of the word’s etymological meaning, it’s medicine,” Vobořil says in response to oft-cited arguments against the therapy. “Drugs given from a doctor’s hand can help. It would guarantee quick, early access to services for users who are at the beginning of the problem and reduce the number of people snowballed by other users.”
Czech authorities have recently attempted to stem the production of methamphetamine by limiting the availability of pseudoephedrine, one of the drug’s key ingredients and most commonly contained in over-the-counter cold and flu medicines. These medicines can now only be purchased from pharmacies if the buyer is registered with a valid ID card; otherwise, a prescription is required.
In practice, however, this step has led to dealers heading to Poland, where no such restrictions apply. Vobořil says he will continue to work with his counterparts there in a bid to change the law, but it is a slow process: The country’s Parliament has already rejected the proposal twice, expressing concerns over the right to customer privacy.
Nonetheless, Vobořil is confident a third bill currently sitting on the table will come to pass. “They don’t have their own problem with methamphetamine, but they understand the epidemic can spread and that they have to do something about it,” he said.
Jonathan Crane can be reached at